“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 26th 2013 by Vintage (first published March 2012)

I selected this book for a couple of reasons. First, a film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon is coming out this December, and so I thought Wild would make a good addition to my Books in the Media series. Second, this book was recommended to me by a relative. I picked it up and thought, This sounds all right. I’ll give it a shot. I later checked it out on Goodreads, and became unsure about what I was going to find within the pages. Some people said this book was amazing and life changing, while others complained about the whiney and vulgar tone. For a moment I considered taking the book back—vulgarity is not my thing. However, this book is indeed being made into a film, it’s a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it’s an Oprah book club book, and it’s one of Indigo’s CEO Heather’s Picks. It’s thus clearly a popular and widely read book. This does not guarantee it’s any good, but it shows that there’s a fair amount of buzz about the book and I should see what it’s all about.

Ultimately, Wild is a memoir about a difficult time in Cheryl’s life. When Cheryl’s twenty-two, her mother, the most important person in the world to her, passes away from cancer. She’s still young. There is still more she could learn from her mother. There is still more guidance she needs from her. She’s practically still a kid. But her mother is taken from her, and this crushes her. From that point forward, her life falls apart. Her father has been out of the picture since Cheryl was six, her step father is no longer around either, her brother and sister keep their distance, and she has trouble connecting with her husband. Her mother was her anchor. Without her, she no longer knows who she is. She floats along lost, trying to get her bearings.

This part of the story receives some criticism about being whiney and self absorbed. Yes, Cheryl was hurting and expresses that hurt, and yes, she ruined a good thing with her husband, and yes, she made some very stupid mistakes with heroin and other men. But she was just being honest about her vulnerability and imperfection. She was so young when the unthinkable happened. Anyone who criticizes her for her pain is one of four things:

  • someone who has never lost a loved one
  • heartless and compassionless
  • extremely cynical
  • or self-righteous and perfect, having never made a mistake.

This part of the story is beautiful and honest, filled with vulnerability, pain, and heartbreak. Yes, her husband was a good man. And yes, she loved him but betrayed him. However, her mother’s death changed her. She wasn’t the same woman she was when she married him. That doesn’t excuse her destructive behaviour, but you can love someone and not be able to be with them. How can you give yourself to someone when you don’t know who you are any more? How can you love and support them when you can’t do the same for yourself? She may not have handled it in the ideal way, but she wasn’t in a good place in her life. She was young, confused, and hurt. I think she should be forgiven and not judged for her mistakes.

In an effort to find her way again, she embarks on a crazy, ridiculous journey that she is utterly unprepared for. She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone for three months, and over 1,000 miles of rocky terrain. People love to harp on about how stupid it was for her to do this. “She was so unprepared,” “She could have died,” “It’s disrespectful to real hikers,” “She wasn’t being brave—she was being stupid,” blah blah blah. I think people just love to complain about things. I agree, she could have given it a bit more thought. However, Strayed does acknowledge that. However, instead of crumbling and giving in, she pushes on and completes her goal. She learns so much about herself as she makes this journey; it shows her what she’s made of and what she’s capable of. She makes many mistakes, but she learns from them. Perhaps most importantly, she learns to move on.

I’ve also read some criticisms of how she glosses over the interesting parts of her journey in favour of taking a walk down memory lane. I’d argue that this book isn’t about her hike. It’s about her life, and what the trail taught her. If you’re more interested in purely wilderness stories, this isn’t that. This is about her life. And it’s hard for her to explore that without providing the reader with context. Throughout her journey, she grew up. She learned what was important. Alone for the better part of three months, she faced her demons.

As expected, there is a bit of vulgarity in her language sometimes and in her description of her sexual exploits. That wasn’t my favourite thing, but it wasn’t a prominent part of the book (and I was grateful for that). Overall, I found this book quite captivating. As a memoir, it’s top notch, and I am excited to see it come to life on the big screen later this year.It’s slated to be released 5 December, and I will be in line to see it! Keep an eye out for more posts about movie updates and promotions. I will discuss these as the release date nears, and then provide my thoughts on the film adaptation!

This week they released the first trailer and poster for the movie! 

Content warning: Explicit language and sexuality, drug abuse.

  • Hallo, Hallo again Beth! 🙂

    I am meant to be finishing up two book reviews which are in-progress, but I was experiencing browser issues, therefore I'm opting to give Opera a whirl and see if it makes my life outside of Firefox a bit easier at the moment! I cannot blog & tweet if both apps are going to shut-down mid-sentence! Oy. Whilst I was getting nestled into Opera, I pulled up my Bloglovin feeds, and found this book review of yours — I loved how you wrote it, mostly as you write how you feel as you read – this is something I admire because I do it myself. Each review I give on my blog is a rumination of my thoughts and the feelings I find being felt 'as I read' and therefore, adding a lot of honesty to my reviews. I appreciate finding this quality in other book bloggers!!

    I have known about this particular book since even before it released, but I was always on the fence if I should read it or not. Having read your review I think I might opt instead for the motion picture. I feel like I've read it through your recollections and the base of what I appreciate about the woman's story is what you've highlighted. I smiled when I saw you acknowledged the vulgarity in the book — this is something I talk about quite a lot on my own blog, so much so it sprouted its own 'tag' in the cloud called "Fly in the Ointment". I do not seek out books that are inclusive of vulgarity, but books do have the tendency to surprise you.

    I played the trailer after I read your own thoughts on what she elected to share of her own life and of the trail in which apparently a lot of people are tipping their hat to comment on. I find that quite awkward as I agree with you: it is her life and it was her motivation to seek out a part of herself that she did not realise she was in lack of. I love character arc journeys and I love how people can genuinely embark on a trip that not only redefines who they are but how they approach their life afterwards. At best, we all need to give credence to her strength to be as bold and open with us as she was.

    Rock on!

    I fully appreciated this review & the trailer of the forthcoming movie!

  • Thanks for your response! I really appreciate it. Yeah, I try to add my own personal touches to reviews because I don't think people really need too much summary. I try to just give a bit, and then my thoughts. Usually people either already know that the book is about, or they can at least glean the more important aspects from what I tell them anyway. I thought it was a really good book, but can understand why you'd wait for the movie. I'm excited to see what Reese Witherspoon brings Cheryl's story (although I find it a bit odd that Witherspoon is more than 10 years older than Cheryl was in the book).